‘Representation matters’: Zach Whitecloud’s Stanley Cup Win Brings Indigenous Representation to NHL

11:00 AM EST
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Kirsten Staple
11:00 AM EST
min - read

The 2022-23 NHL season concluded with the Vegas Golden Knights winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

This win is not only marked by Jack Eichel experiencing his first career postseason, Phil Kessel winning his third Stanley Cup and Jonathan Marchessault becoming the second undrafted player (behind Wayne Gretzky) to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, but also by Zach Whitecloud becoming a first-time Stanley Cup champion.

Whitecloud is from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation — located in Manitoba, Canada.

He joins Hockey Hall of Famers George Armstrong, Theo Fleury, Grant Fuhr, and Bryan Trottier, along with Magnus and Rod Flett, Dwight King, Jamie and Reggie Leach, Jordan Nolan, Chris Simon, and T.J. Oshie as players of Indigenous descent to win the Stanley Cup.

Whitecloud is also one of the few Indigenous active players in the NHL: Brandon Montour (Mohawk), Travis Hamonic, Connor Dewar, Calen Addison (Metis), T.J. Oshie (Ojibwe), Ethan Bear, Michael Ferland, Brady Keeper (Cree), and Carey Price (Ulkatcho First Nation) round out the list.

Despite being among elite company, Whitecloud made history by becoming the first Sioux Valley Dakota Nation player to play in the NHL.

Jennifer Bone, the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation’s Chief, expressed to ESPN that their community has a great sense of pride about Whitecloud. They have a sign that reads "Home of NHL player Zach Whitecloud of the Vegas Golden Knights" that people see entering the community. Soon, they’ll proudly change that sign to

“Home of Stanley Cup champion Zach Whitecloud.”

“Having him and Brandon Montour in the Stanley Cup Final shows the representation of Indigenous people and showcases the talent that they have,” Bone said.

Bone is right: representation is important.

“It means a lot to see fantastic representation on and off the ice with Zach,” Mike “O’dah ziibing” Ashkewe, a writer of Ojibwe mixed heritage, told Hockey of Tomorrow.

“A lot of Indigenous kids grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL, the culmination of that dream and seeing it realized is something amazing. I’m happy to see so many more Indigenous kids come up through the minor leagues and strut their stuff in the NHL. I’m thrilled to see this happen during Indigenous history month as well.”

Katherine Strongwind, who works as Director of 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada, a non-profit dedicated to helping survivors of the 1960s scoop process and is also of Ojibwe mixed descent from Manitoba, said this win is meaningful.

“I'm proud of Zach for his accomplishments and the leadership he's shown this year,” Strongwind shared with Hockey of Tomorrow.

“He's an exceptional role model for other hockey players and athletes but also for establishing and building respectful relationships as part of reconciliation. Representation matters - you can't be what you can't see, and Mr. Whitecloud is showing other young Indigenous people that anything is possible.”

Not long after his victory, Whitecloud proudly expressed his gratitude for his Indigenous culture.

The Sioux Valley Dakota Nation shared their appreciation and celebration for Whitecloud in a press release, in which they expressed that his win was not only for the game of hockey but also for his community because “his journey, deeply rooted in cultural teachings and values, is a testament to what can be achieved…[and] his success is a beacon of hope and an inspiration for young ones, who can now see that they too can reach for the stars and achieve their dreams.”

Whitecloud’s achievement will be engraved on the Stanley Cup and also on the hearts of those who were touched by his accomplishment.

Photo credits: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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